Black Lives Matter!

Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.

Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.

This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.

For further disturbing reading, see:

Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.

In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.

“Why are you so angry?”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.

“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”

“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”

“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”

In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.

“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”

“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”

A couple years later, I joined the office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, proud of the work and looking forward to “working within the system” for justice.

Scott Pearce in Division 40

July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House

I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.

My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.

It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.

I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”

Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.

30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:

In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:

Four Eyes

Renaissance Faire guy with Four Eyes

Here is another winning photograph from my dad’s vast archive of shots from the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. This one comes to us from the spring of 1980. I imagine this is not something you see every day. Definitely an eye-catching picture!

33 Years Ago Today

Volcano Explodes

May 25, 1980 was a memorable day. This was the day I graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, the Garden Spot of the Pacific Northwest.

What everybody remembers about May 1980 was the explosion of Mount St. Helens on the 18th.  Here’s a picture I took that day from behind the Adult Student Housing complex at 2701 North Main Street.

Gigantic clouds of volcanic ash were falling across Forest Grove the afternoon of May 25, 1980. It was harsh enough that my parents got out of town without staying long enough for dinner.

A Tale of Two Mustangs

Many of us have fond feelings about cars we had when we were kids. Here’s a 1980 picture taken in Forest Grove, Oregon, featuring me and my 1968 Mustang. I drove this car for many years, from college through law school and into the early years of my professional life. Although everybody agreed it was a cool car, it was far from fancy. It had “three on the floor” and a little 200 cubic inch “straight six” engine. It did not have air conditioning, but it did have a black plastic interior well-designed to retain heat.

For me this blurred image has a vaguely dreamlike quality. Could this picture really be 33 years old? The field in the background has been richly developed during those years. Was that shirt one I’d bought in ’73 to wear at my graduation from junior high? Inside the car I can see that my disassembled racing bike is in the back seat. Wasn’t that fancy bike stolen right out from under my nose at Venice Beach seven or eight years later?

1980_0904_scott_pearce_mustang

Here is a 2013 Mustang Fastback, which I rented for my latest excursion to Redwood Country. The modern car is quite similar to the one that was built 45 years ago, but it is more comfortable and has more modern conveniences. It was fun to drive around northwest California in this car…but it did serve to prove that nostalgia is a longing for something you couldn’t stand anymore. I’m much happier with my Sebring than I ever was with a car with a hard-top.

2013_0420_mustang

World’s Tallest Barber Pole

Going back in time can be a tricky business. When one stands on the same spot 30 years later, it’s hard not to get a little dizzy. Few people appreciate Forest Grove, Oregon, the Garden Spot of the Pacific Northwest. Pacific University is here, and in May of 1980 I graduated from that institution.

Barber Pole SignGraduate and Barber PoleWorld's Tallest Barber Pole

30 years and three months later, I returned to the site of the World’s Tallest Barber Pole. It pleased me to see the school so obviously prospering. It was nice to take pictures on a day when Mt. St. Helens was not exploding, too. That was the key feature of my college graduation day – the mountain blew up and a massive ash-fall was occurring while I was collecting my diploma. My parents came up for the ceremony but hurried off without staying for dinner.

Come to think of it, I should have gone out for lobster, to make up for the fancy meal I missed back in 1980! Oh well, maybe in another 30 years.

25 Years Ago Today

Scott Gets A Law Degree

“Academic Auschwitz”

That’s how I used to refer to the USC Law Center. My three years there neatly coincided with Reagan’s first term in office. They were relentlessly miserable. With each passing day I became more class-conscious and more appalled at the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the American professional demographic. Each day was filled with political and interpersonal torment.

I remember going to a social gathering for new law students a week or two before classes started. Somebody mentioned that I drove an old Mustang. One of the more attractive young women present looked at me with a smile and said, “Is it a convertible?”

Never, not for one minute, did I buy into the Reagan-Thatcher ideology. Fortunately, I also did not buy into their investment strategy. When Reagan was riding high and his chief economic adviser was from the USC business school next door, I argued that borrowing billions from the Japanese to build nuclear weapons was not conservative – or wise.

Why did I go there? If I was so miserable, why didn’t I transfer? I figured one top-tier law school probably was as good as the next. Looking back, I’m glad I stayed. A few days before graduation, one of my classmates, a quiet young woman whom I didn’t really know, spoke to me. “I’m glad you were in our class. You’re more like some kind of artist. More people like you should study law.” She was a nice person but I’m not sure what she meant.

On our graduation day, 25 years ago today, one of my plaid-shorts-wearing, right-wing classmates tossed an object in my direction while we were in the student lounge. It was a vial of cocaine. The guy showed me another perfect Republican smile. “Get a good job and you’ll be able to afford it, too.”

If I could travel back in time and sit with young Scott, I’d tell him this: Don’t take it seriously. Don’t come to class often, and when you do, don’t come sober. Don’t argue politics or the law in law school unless it improves your buzz. Get a nice left-handed acoustic guitar and hang out on Venice Beach. Learn the law from the bar review people, not your professors. Practice for exams as much as possible and study as little as possible. You’ll be a big scholar and you’ll be an even better mediocre musician.

Gerry Pearce 1981

Gerry Pearce in Hollywood, July 1981

Today is the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. My mom took this picture on Rutherford Drive in the Hollywood Hills back in the summer of ’81. I plan to publish many of my father’s photographs and movies soon, along with his book on the Middle-East. No doubt a grateful world will wonder what took me so long.

Rolling Probable Cause

1989_scott_pearce_camaro

Back in 1989, my 1979 Chevy Camaro Berlinetta was, as a friend’s ex-wife once said, “a really bitchin car.”

You don’t get the full effect unless you’ve got the t-tops off and you’re going down the highway very, very fast and listening to Free Wheel Burning very, very loud.

A lot of people thought the license plate was a political statement. In fact, it was merely a reminder of my ice hockey position. Didn’t you know I was a big ice hockey player? Yeah, that’s right. We played it every summer at West Hollywood Park.

I had a C-120 cassette tape most of the Grateful Dead’s October 9, 1989 show from Hampton, Virginia in this car that I listened to more than any other single recording. For no extra charge, here’s the show! To recreate the experience, start with cut 11.

Practicing Law July 1986

In Court July 25, 1986

Here I am in the summer of ’86 at counsel table in one of the big arraignment courts in the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles. I was a deputy public defender, and I was delighted to be getting paid to cross-examine cops. Not much more than a year later, I left that job horrified by the injustice I’d seen and participated in. By then I was a much more radical young lawyer than I was at the time this photographs was taken.

Venerable Coffee Mug

Coffee Mug with Cats

Coffee mugs are some of the most common drug paraphernalia around. Here we have a friendly, feline-oriented mug that dates from 1980. Today, 28 years later, you can see that the mug is doing its usual splendid job: exploiting the forces of gravity to keep hot coffee contained within its walls. You can also see that the mug is sitting on a granite counter tonight. This mug spent many years on more humble surfaces.

RIP Professor Whitebread

Charles Whitebread died a few days ago at the age of 65. He never smoked cigarettes but lung cancer killed him anyway. I knew him at USC and in the bar review business.

Professor Whitebread was one of the best lecturers I ever watched and listened to. He joined the faculty at the USC Law School in the summer of 1981, which is when I started my first year at the same institution.

I took three classes from him: Criminal Procedure, Gifts Wills and Trusts (GWATS), and Juvenile Law. His classes were packed and people didn’t skip many sessions.  Each 50 minute lecture was a model of clarity and precision, engaging and entertaining. This guy loved and respected his students. He showed up prepared and he inspired everybody to care about the material the way he did.

Here is a drawing of Professor Whitebread that I put on my folder for Gifts, Wills & Trusts back in the spring of 1983. I respected this professor, but I developed a fierce contempt for law school. The only thing about law school that was an improvement over junior high was the fact that it was OK to drink alcohol in class.

Listen to Charlie tell a quick story about a marijuana dealer, a fleeing felon, and hot pursuit.

US Festival – May 1983

US Festival - Heavy Metal Day - May 29, 1983

It’s been 25 years since the second US Festival. I had just finished my second year at the USC School of Law and was very much in the mood for big crowds and loud music.

The US Festival was a three-day show. Larry and I went to days two and three, making our way to San Bernardino in my black 1968 Mustang. This is considered a classic car with quaint triangle-windows separate from the front windows. The (cheap) model I owned had three-on-the-floor and no air conditioning. Temperatures would go above 100 degrees both days.

May 29 was the Heavy Metal day. Quiet Riot was the opening act. Larry had been the band’s photographer back in his Hollywood High days. The band was at its commercial peak on this day. I was highly entertained by Judas Priest. The spectacle of these totally un-tanned white boys coming out in black leather, astride big motorcycles, on a hundred-plus degree afternoon…well, I thought it was hilarious. I loved their version of “Diamonds and Rust.” I admit I was a bit astonished and amused by how seriously this band was taken by much of the audience. Ozzy came out, fat and drunk, and without Randy Rhoads, who had recently died in a stupid plane crash. Fans rushed the stage and there was a sense of real danger in the air, along with massive clouds of tobacco and pot smoke.

Things did not get totally out of hand, probably because the promoters had the sense to segregate the alcohol drinkers, and to require them to stay within their own little holding pen, far away from the stage. By far the most impressive set of the May 29 show was the Scorpions. Those German guys really taught the Brits and the Americans a few things about musicality and showmanship. Van Halen co-headlined the show, but they were too wasted to maintain any kind of musical or emotional momentum. Larry and I spent several hours trapped in the parking lot after the show, waiting for the jam to clear.

David Bowie was the headliner on the 30th. Los Lobos was the opening act. The Pretenders played their first show with a new guitarist, the previous one having died of drugs. U2 was on the bill, self-important but good – and lower on the bill than the Pretenders. Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks each had pleasant sets. After the Bowie set we discovered that the Mustang had been towed, along with hundreds of other cars. Larry and I had to walk several miles in the middle of the night and hand over virtually every cent both of us had to get the car out of the impound lot. We made it back to Hollywood just before the morning rush hour.

The US Festival saw one of the most fabulous performances ever – by business lawyers! Van Halen signed for One Million US Dollars. That was quite impressive in and of itself, but the lawyers were able to get a “Most Favored Nation” clause in the agreement, which guaranteed that Van Halen would make as much money as any other artist on the bill. When the promoters agreed to pay David Bowie $1.5 Million, our drunk and stoned friends from Pasadena got a cool half-million dollar raise!

You’ll notice that there have not been any US Festivals since 1983. That’s because the promoters lost millions on these shows. Think about that for a minute. You’ve really got to concentrate pretty hard to lose that kind of money when you put on a show that draws more than half a million people!